We all know the type and have been them, at times: the chronically dissatisfied. Short-changed by life at every turn, or so they believe, they adopt a scorched-earth mentality. Each time they unbutton their lips, it’s to tear down, belittle, bemoan: the weather, the news, their colleagues, the world. At the very least, to satisfy their disgruntled hearts, they will emit a long and windy sigh.
We learn, over time, to avoid such persons or minimize our interactions — and not ask them how they are doing or about their work, or their weekends, for fear of the deluge. Sometimes, they might overhear themselves and, in turn, they will complain about how difficult it is being them.
There is no age limit to this misbehavior, of course, and growing older does not mean growing up. But maturity and, certainly, evolving does mean complaining less — since, we cannot complain and truly learn, at the same time. Rumi says this best in a handful of words: “If you are irritated by every rub, how will your mirror be polished?”
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Which is to say, those so-called “irritants” — obstacles, hurdles, challenges, disappointments, delayed gratifications, even heartache — they are all there to help us grow and polish the mirror of our heart. But, first, we must perceive them in this light and try to work with them, not against them.
Patience, of course, is key. Another Sufi teacher, Idries Shah, puts it this way: “The impatient man is his own enemy; he slams the door on his own progress.” Because my mind works in quotations, I am now reminded of yet another. In this case, it was Christian counsel on a wooden plaque at the entrance of our childhood home (even though we were not raised as Christians). Known as the “Serenity Prayer” and written by the American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, it read: “Lord, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, And wisdom to know the difference.”
To recognize that all is not within our hands, and act on what is, this is wisdom in practice. Generally speaking, I’ve found that patience, acceptance and gratitude are effective antidotes to complaining. Asking how can I best use these testing circumstances is a better approach than knee-jerk resistance and negativity.
Because we also live — virtually — on social media platforms where other suffering souls visit our feed/communal well in search of something to refresh them, it’s worthwhile to try to balance our tendency to vent with some uplift. Otherwise, without recognizing it, we might find one day that we have become like those persons we avoid: the incorrigible complainers.
The author C.S. Lewis eloquently sums up this unfortunate predicament:
“Hell begins with a grumbling mood, always complaining, always blaming others. . . but you are still distinct from it. You may even criticize it in yourself and wish you could stop it. But there may come a day when you can no longer. Then there will be no you left to criticize the mood or even to enjoy it, but just the grumble itself, going on forever like a machine. It is not a question of God ‘sending us’ to hell. In each of us there is something growing, which will BE hell unless it is nipped in the bud.”
Lately, I’ve been thinking about how the coronavirus and the way we respond to it offers us a “teachable” moment — a mysterious opportunity gifted to us in the form of a global health crisis. By association, I think of Pascal‘s prayer: “Teach us the proper use of sickness.” Instead of complaining, hoarding or living in fear, we might ask: How can this pandemic help bring out the best in us by granting us time and space — as world citizens — to slow down, turn inwards and meditate upon the fact that other people’s lives, literally, depend on us (and vice versa)?
This is a mighty, humbling and potentially transformative moment if we can recognize it, capable of ushering in a newfound sense of our inter-connectedness, as well as tenderness toward the vulnerability of all human life and its unpredictability.
*[Yahia Lababidi is the author of “Revolutions of the Heart: Literary, Cultural, & Spiritual (2020).” The book can be purchased here.]
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.